THE XENOPHOBIA OF TIME?
‘That passed the time.’
‘It would have passed in any case.’
‘Yes, but not so rapidly.’
‘What do we do now?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘We’re waiting for Godot.’
-Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.
Here they are: two men who meet each other standing by a tree on a country road. They claim to be waiting for someone whose name is Godot. He never arrives but always indicates that he will come. Thus, giving hope and a reason to continue waiting. Nevertheless, their perpetual waiting leads them to head scratching confusion and madness inducing uncertainty as the question of “what to do next?” reverberates around their soul.
Waiting is a particular and peculiar experience of time. As Pierre Bourdieu said, ‘waiting is a way of experiencing the effort of power. Making people wait… delaying without destroying hope is part of the domination.’ This then can be applied to the situation most migrants find themselves in today.
Mass migration caused by globalisation has been at the centre of developing a global world. Technology and economic growth has meant that travel has become easier, yet at the same time, states are focusing more intently on the immigration policy. They are often seeking to strengthen controls by increasing the difficulty of many applications. And although this is not new it appears to be becoming more gargantuan than ever before.
Obtaining entry into a country, applying and renewing a visa or attempting to gain citizenship is common amongst migrants. Unexplained delays, forever changing requirements and ambiguity in status create a seemingly eternal circle of hope and despair. How long must they wait? Who makes them wait? Why must they wait? The period of waiting generates a contingency – a future that is hard for them to envision and foresee.
‘The Xenophobia of Time?’ comes from the urgency to visualise the veiled sides of migrant’s experiences in this time of accelerating global migration. It contemplates the importance of art in responding to such issues, whilst asking of its abilities to interact with the public’s way of seeing. Migration is a word that encompasses different meanings from a diverse range of fields – it can be, and has often been explained by a political, economic, historical or geographical view. But what about the artistic perception on global migration? How do the arts visualise the spatial process of migration and tell us about the experiencing and passing of time? All the works in the show examine the effects of prolonged waiting, the power of authorised documents and the will of those in control.
Time as a Governance?
Migration has generally been seen only as a spatial process yet it is, in fact, also a temporal process. Imposing temporal requirements is a strategy that states use to control migration. The authorised documents act as a ticking and sometimes exploding reminder as to where the power dwells. They, through a deity like omnipotence, track movement, increase or decrease waiting, withhold or provide information and either reject or accept applications.
Pondering the difference between citizens and non-citizens, ‘Postcards From Nowhere’ by Shao-Jie Lin is a collection of recycled-paper-made ‘postcards’ created using refused-entry ‘landing cards’ of the UK Border Agency. The process of recycling has transformed the landing card from important bureaucratic document to simple souvenirs of being nowhere.
Another recycled-paper-made object ‘A Passport to Everywhere’ by Lin uses expired passport pages of ten different countries, visualising the desire to achieve genuine freedom of movement – A ‘utopian’ idea of the nomadic. These two works utilise used materials to rethink the regulation of people’s mobility, shedding light on the meaning of passport control as a way of illuminating the institutionalisation of the idea of nation-state as well as the authorised power in an increasingly automated system.
Is there anything I can do? Asks the migrant tapping his toes to the rhythm of the clock. There are several EU countries, including the UK, who offer permanent residence to those who can afford to ‘buy’ citizenship. Opposing the neoliberal concept of the acquisition of citizenship by investment, Nele Vos’ ‘Citizenshop’ invites audiences to an online shop where they can buy all the available citizenships they want in the ‘Republic of Nowhere’.
The online web shop raises questions about data collection through a series of statements provided by policy makers and sociologists. In addition to this there is an assemblage of personal voices talking about citizenship. The visitor experiences the government’s point of view alongside her/his own multidimensional needs, moving from being a spectator to becoming a co-author of the installation, musing: What can you afford to buy in the Citizenshop? What really makes a good citizen?
‘How to get out of London in 30 days’ by Ting-Ting Cheng offers a travel guide for the millions of immigrants who reside in London. It re-examines the experience of those who have been through the period of waiting for the visa application, showing how the temporal requirement is a way that states deprive migrants’ mobility and shapes their decisions. The work also reveals the imperialistic illusion constructed by mass media and the immigration policy of the British government in response to the growing xenophobic atmosphere.
Juxtaposing a poster from the EU referendum highlighting both sides of the debate and a video work featuring 62 geographically different roads from Google Street View, ‘The Road On Which The Sun Never Sets’ by Shao-Jie Lin raises the concerns surrounding a stricter than ever immigration policy that is leaving those EU members currently residing in the UK with a great deal of uncertainty. In the video work, Lin specifically captured those places across the globe that share either a British-original name of district or a British-Monarch title of road, aiming to take the viewers on a historical tour of the former British Empire highlighting similarities and contradictions between the past, present and possible future.
In the essay Minimal Selves, Stuart Hall has shared how the experience of being a migrant sharpened his sense of home and belonging in contexts of migration, diaspora and statelessness in a globalised world. For Hall, the migratory journey is the period of recognising where his identity existed while he was in the so-called ‘migranthood’. Discussing the definition of home and the sense of belonging for immigrants, ‘Break’ by Edwin Mingard invites viewers to look at the main character Yousef’s daily life and how he starts to think of himself not as an immigrant but as a ‘person’. There is an element of ambiguity in the film. The viewer is unaware of Yousef’s visa situation, how long he has been in London, and the reasons that brought him to the city. For Yousef, the distinction between ‘psychological’ and ‘substance’ identity is becoming vague. And as he embarks on a journey that sees him struggle with this vagueness he finds himself asking the question ‘To stay or not to stay?’.
A Journey to Nowhere?
In its making, The Xenophobia of Time? has asked all sorts of questions about the relationship between time and migration, between documents and identity and between affirmation and rejection.
The featured works in the show constellate a flow that navigates us to see the temporal process of migration, starting from a boarding card leading to the ‘Republic of Nowhere.’ Once residing in this ‘Republic’ one is tantalisingly invited to ‘buy’ citizenship with promises of grandeur. But as one begins to explore this paradise they soon realise that all is not as it appears. For hanging like an apparition is a flag reminding one of the past and its inherent links to the present and to the future. One is then handed a guide and as this guide morphs into a faceless passport one is left asking: Is waiting indicative of life? And if so, to what extent? If time does not deal in paper work, if time does not exclude, then who does? Who is the xenophobic?
Bourdieu, Pierre. (2000). Pascalian Meditations, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Hall, Stuart. (1994). ‘Cultural identity and diaspora.’ in William, P. and Chrisman, L. (eds.) Colonial Discourse ad Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, New York: Columbia University Press.
This article is the catalouge essay of the exhibition “The Xenophobia of Time?”